WA Open History: 1937 & 38 Winner Dan Cullen

7th Oct 2014

100 nearly up for 1937 and 1938 champion Dan Cullen as the WA Open reaches 101

Cottesloe Golf Club will host the 2014 John Hughes Nexus Risk Services WA Open from Thursday 16 October to Sunday 19 October and it will be 101 years since Clyde Pearce, at Fremantle Golf Club in 1913, won the first WA Open championship. There have been some great past winners of the championship, including four major championship winners in Kel Nagle, Gary Player, Ian Baker-­‐Finch and Greg Norman. However none can match the longevity of the 1937 and 1938 champion Dan Cullen, a great friend of the Cottesloe Golf Club, who will turn 100 on 15 November 2014.

Dan Cullen was an assistant Professional to Eric Alberts at Cottesloe Golf Club from 1931-­‐1937, just after the club moved from the site at Cottesloe Beach that is now Sea View Golf Club, to their current location in Swanbourne. Dan was a special guest of the club in their centenary year of 2008 where he had the pleasure of congratulating the WA Open winner James Nitties and told James that his own win 70 years earlier in 1938 had come with the princely sum of five pounds. In 2014 the field will contest a tournament purse of $110,000.

Dan Cullen pictured in 1938 is turning 100

If golf is an aide to longevity, Dan Cullen is a case for the affirmative as he approaches his century on 15 November. Dan competed regularly and successfully on the fledgling Australian pro circuit after the war. At 62, he reputedly became the oldest golfer ever to gain admittance to a British Open championship from the qualifying rounds, with a pair of 71s to play in the 1977 Open at Turnberry.

Cullen once won an Australian Seniors’ championship, breaking his age in every round. His golfing longevity is quite remarkable — he has broken his age on literally thousands of occasions and retained a single-­‐figure handicap into his 90s. The professional at Roseville Golf Club in Sydney post-­‐war he was then the respected professional from 1955-­‐1975 at St Michael’s club in Sydney, where he is a life member. Thereafter he ran the nearby Dan Cullen Driving range where he was still giving lessons to people well into his 90s. Dan’s life in golf, which has also included service as chairman of the Professional Golfers Association, has seen him play with and befriend thousands from the famous to the most humble.

A couple of great champions in Arnold Palmer and Gary Player pictured with Dan Cullen in the 1950s.

Dan left school at 14 to commence a traineeship with Eric Alberts at the WA Golf Club Mt Yokine and says he worked seven days a week for 10 shillings. He recalled that after they transferred to Cottesloe Golf Club in 1931, riding his bike from Tuart Hill to Cottesloe and back every day mostly on unsealed roads and often in darkness with no lights, gave his legs the strength that served him well in life and his golf career. It was in the WA Open Championship that Dan revealed his golfing talent winning the 1937 WA Open at Royal Fremantle and successfully defending the title in 1938 at Lake Karrinyup. In 1938 the great South African professional Bobby Locke came to Perth and after Dan defeated him in an exhibition match at Royal Perth Locke encouraged him to transfer to Sydney for wider competition and opportunities. This Dan did and along with long-­‐term golfing opportunities it also reunited him with his girlfriend Enid whose family had moved to Sydney. Enid and Dan married in 1940 and remain that way 74 years later with Enid turning 94 in December this year.

Apart from his happy marriage, Dan credits his active longevity in life and golf to a blessing received from a down at heel Irishman he gave a pound to during the War. He received the response “ God bless you Sir and may the wood for your casket come from a tree that hasn’t been planted yet!

100 coming up: Dan Cullen and wife of 74 years Enid with their son Dan Jnr, granddaughter Louise, Dan’s partner Erica and Dan and Enid’s daughter Marrianne.

Shortly after Dan moved to Sydney saw the outbreak of World War Two and he enlisted in the RAAF. Dan says his desire to be a pilot and his prior early departure from school became a conflict. On enlisting at Woolloomooloo he was quizzed. Algebra? “I haven’t a clue,” said Dan. Ditto for decimals. Are you prepared to learn? “Yes I am” replied Dan and when asked this week what he was proudest of in life he elected for his effort in self-­‐ educating as a young adult to do all that he had to in achieving his dream of being a pilot. The wisdom that shines from him, with his retained sharp intellect despite rising 100, shows he has collected a few degrees from the ‘University of Life’ along the way.

Dan piloted Lancaster bombers in WWII and won a DFC on a bombing raid on Friedrichshafen, pressing on a further 100 miles to complete the mission successfully, despite the early loss of an engine and the knocking out of his mid-­‐upper gun turret along with the holing of his petrol tanks.

Dan commented on the strange feeling of the first time he thundered down the runway to take off in a Lancaster Bomber and reflecting that he didn’t have a license to drive a car.

The lanky Flight Lieutenant Dan Cullen DFC (centre) with his WWII Lancaster Bomber crew

The contribution that Australian families made in the war effort, both those who served and the families left behind, is demonstrated starkly in the Cullen family experience with six brothers all serving their country. Douglas served in the RAAF and was killed in a training flight near Rottnest Island on 6 January 1944 that saw three others killed, including flying instructor Charles Learmonth DFC in whose memory RAAF Learmonth airport is named. Sadly for the family Dan’s younger brother Jim, who flew spitfires in the RAAF, was to lose his life in action in Malaysia just two days from war’s end. Jim had been a great golfing talent who won the 1936 WA Amateur championship aged only 16. Donald served in the army 2/11 battalion and was a prisoner-­‐of-­‐war with the Germans; Ken was a gunner in army tank corps in the Middle East; Dermott was an army tank corps captain while Dan was an RAAF flight lieutenant who was awarded his DFC as a Lancaster bomber captain flying 42 raids over Europe & Germany.

The Cullen Brothers served in WWII: (WD) Dermott, DP (Donald), DR (Douglas), DK (Ken), DJ (Dan), JN (Jim)

Dan Cullen pictured at home on a reflective Anzac day

When asked to nominate what life lesson had served him best, Dan nominated one that emanated from up a nectarine tree in the family home at Parkerville when aged seven. “I loved nectarines and had climbed the tree for a feed but had eaten ones that weren’t ripe. I got a terrible pain in the tummy and was put to bed convinced I was dying but was told by my Dad ‘the pain will be gone in the morning’. Which it was – I woke up well and happy. I always remembered that throughout my life and in a way is the life lesson that has served me well. Just get on with it – bad times and life’s hiccups will pass.

Dan and Enid were last in WA in 2013 on a cruise and won’t be over for the WA Open at Cottesloe. However any young professional lamenting a round gone awry in that tournament might well take some solace from Dan’s nectarine story.

We all can take some inspiration from a life well lived and raise a glass to Dan on November 15 when he celebrates his centenarian status.

The great swing of Dan Cullen at the 1937 WA open championship at Royal Fremantle

Spectators lined the green as Dan Cullen sank his winning putt at the 1937 WA Open Golf Championship at Royal Fremantle.

Seventy-seven years on from his first WA Open Championship win Dan will be able to follow the action from the 2014 championship at Cottesloe October 16-­‐19 online through the GolfWA website www.golfwa.org.au

Locally spectators are very welcome at Cottesloe Golf Club with free admission all days to the championship as a great field of established and emerging young Professionals and Amateurs contest the championship.

A big thank-you from GolfWA goes to Cottesloe’s Phil Ryan on his great work research work in producing this article!